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Towering Inferno

Downtown Neighbors Fired Up Over Proposed 35-Story Building

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From his SW Morrison apartment, George Trinkaus has his eye on a few squat buildings across the street, buildings that are slated for demolition and replacement by a much taller, mixed-use structure that will take up the whole block.

"It's inconceivable that a structure of that bulk could be built," says Trinkaus, adding that the building will have a negative impact on traffic and will mean the loss of a neighborhood tavern. He's gathered up similarly outraged neighbors, who met up a few weeks ago to plot strategy.

Trinkaus' concerns sound like typical neighborhood gripes. The difference is, Trinkaus' apartment is at Morrison and SW Park—smack in the middle of downtown, a neighborhood marked by the city's tallest buildings. He and his neighbors—who call themselves Park Avenue Concern—are upset over a proposed 35-story tower slated to replace the Virginia Café and Zell Brothers Jewelers, a TMT Development project.

Nevertheless, the neighbors' concerns echo those heard around the city nearly every time dense development is proposed: "We're very much concerned about more congestion and more traffic," says Marih Alyn-Claire, who's lived in the Morrison Park Apartments for 10 years. The new tower includes several levels of underground parking, which will connect to two adjacent underground garages—including the one at nearby Fox Tower—and all exit from one location on SW Taylor.

Alyn-Claire is also concerned that the tower will block her view—her apartment will face the building—and sunlight. "It's going to affect people down here," she says.

Both Alyn-Claire and Trinkaus—who each testified at a May 17 "design advice" hearing about the project at the Portland Design Commission—say downtown Portland just isn't the place for a 400-foot-plus tower: "If this was San Francisco, New York, something like that, sure," Alyn-Claire says. "But this is Portland and it's traditionally not the big skyscraper town. Most of the buildings around here aren't that tall." Trinkaus, for his part, says a neighborhood like the Lloyd District is better suited for tall buildings.

They also claim there's plenty of empty space downtown, making the new tower unnecessary. They'd rather the site be turned into a park—like the adjacent "Park Block 5," a former surface parking lot that's being turned into an underground parking garage capped with green space. That project is part of the deal between TMT and the city that could allow the developer to build a taller tower than is currently allowed under the site's zoning. (Meanwhile, downtown's "Class A" office vacancy rate is currently just over five percent—a figure that does not indicate a glut of empty space.)

Park Avenue Concern—worried that the project is on a fast track, thanks to that park trade-off—plans to push for intense design scrutiny on the project. "We know the rules," says Trinkaus. "We say play by the rules please, and give a project with this scale of impacts the land use review it deserves. Without the public scrutiny, these people get quite smug."

Kara Fioravanti, with the city's Bureau of Development Services, says the project is still in the preliminary stages—the developers haven't formally submitted a land use review application. A formal application would trigger a Type 3 Design Review and a Type 3 Central City Master Plan review—in other words, there will be at least two more meetings in front of the design commission, with opportunities for public input.

The developer—who did not return a call by press time—has presented the project to the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA). DNA reps were also unavailable for comment.

Additional reporting by Matt Davis.

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